From its opening train hijacking sequence to its creative opening credits, The Good, The Bad, The Weird seemed like a film that would be right up my alley. The first few minutes were so enjoyable that I was quite sure that the goofy, highly stylized film would be one of my new favorites.

Well, that was shooting a little too high. While it was in fact very close to being a perfect over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek masterpiece, it fell slightly short — an unfortunate situation, considering the film is very obviously the collaboration of people who know what they’re doing.

First and foremost, the film succeeds in a fundamental way with fantastic character development. Familiar Korean actors fill in the roles impressively, with Song Kang-ho (Thirst, Memories Of Murder, JSA) playing “The Weird”, bad ass Lee Byung-hun as “The Bad” (Three Extremes, Hero, JSA), and lesser-known Jung Woo-sung (A Moment To Remember, The Warrior) as “The Good”. Ultimately, they are caricatures, but it works. Song plays the role of the familiar bumbling comedic relief, Lee owns the role of the egomaniac killer, and Jung is almost too perfect as the renegade long arm of the law. The three, as suggested by the title, are vastly different, and Lee and Jung in particular stand strong; the whole film seems to be a teaser leading up to their ultimate showdown.

The film is a visual treat in a cluttered, hypercolored way. With impressive neon lighting that’s notable in nearly every frame, The Good, The Bad, The Weird is home to brightly colored, ornate marketplaces, warriors donning unmatching, richly patterned textiles, and strange leftover war relics. At some points, it literally seems like the costume and set designers just scoured junk stores and pulled home everything with some kitschy collectable appeal, from motorcycles with sidecars to Manchurian-inspired furs and rusty wind instruments. This kind of worldly hodge-podge works with The Good, The Bad, The Weird, because if films could be copy-and-paste collages, this would be one. It is stylistically all over the map, but somehow it pulls together.

With so much going for it, then, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly only falls significantly short in one way. Apparently, the director and editors decided after shooting that they really, really love explosions — from every angle and in every speed. And while the explosions are initially entertaining, they become boring towards the end of the film. There is what seems to be a ridiculous ten-minute clip that switches between shots of running horses and shots of explosions. The over-saturation is completely underwhelming.

Asides from this misstep, though, the film concludes in a satisfying way. As mentioned, The Good… seems to be teasing the viewer throughout its duration, hinting at the ultimate showdown between the film’s three main characters. And despite this built-up anticipation, the conclusion satisfies.

SCREENINGS AT THE 2010 PORTLAND INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL:
February 13 – 9:00pm at Regal Broadway Cinemas (B1)
February 15 – 4:00pm at Whitsell Auditorium (Portland Art Museum)
February 17 – 9:15pm at Regal Broadway Cinemas (B2)

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